Glazers raise the spectre of Old Trafford sale to cut debt

Club admit £300m lease-back scheme for iconic stadium would be considered to balance finances
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The Independent Football

The Glazer family have raised the prospect of selling Old Trafford in the prospectus circulated to potential investors from whom they are seeking £500m to refinance Manchester United.

The club's owners state in the document that the legal contract governing the £500m bond, details of which, they have issued this week "will not prohibit us from selling certain key properties" and these include "our training ground facilities and our stadium". This introduces the possibility of United selling and leasing back the most iconic asset they have – which Joel Glazer pledged after the purchase of the club in May 2005 would never happen and which would leave United supporters in a state of open revolt.

Some analysts suggested yesterday the Glazers could secure an immediate £300m from the ground's sale – a figure which would almost halve their astronomical £700m debt, though another burden on the club would be felt immediately. A prospective freeholder would probably want a five per cent rental yield, meaning United would be encumbered with a £15m-a-year bill to go with the huge interest repayments which the Glazers' leveraged buyout has heaped on the club.

The Glazers state in the prospectus that anyone acquiring either the 75,797-capacity stadium or United's Carrington training ground "will be required to enter into a long-term lease with us to enable us to continue to have substantially the same access to such property as we currently do." But there is a clear warning as to the effects of a sale: "If we sell or transfer either or both of these properties [Old Trafford or Carrington] we will no longer control them."

There is also an admission that Old Trafford may suffer if United no longer own it. "The failure by the [freeholder] in respect of either or both of these properties to maintain the properties or to make additional capital expenditures to improve the facilities at such properties could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations."

The revelation that such an outcome is possible will distress fans for whom this week's prospectus has laid bare the financial realities of the club.

The prospectus articulates the Glazers' desire "to continue to preserve and expand our control of revenue-generating assets" and in 2007 United bought ITV's 33.3 per cent share in the television station MUTV to that end, bringing 66.7 per cent of the channel under Glazer control. But the Manchester United Supporters' Trust warned as far back as 2006 that the sale of Old Trafford or the sale of other businesses looked like the only way of bringing down the crippling levels of debt incurred by the club and its new owners.

The 322-page prospectus, the basis for a bond offer which will consolidate and extend by four years the capital repayment date on bank loans taken out to buy the club, but not reduce the rate of interest, provides an extraordinary level of detail about the financial workings of an intensely private business.

Though the club have brushed aside suggestions that they unfairly poached Paul Pogba, the defensive midfielder and captain of the France Under-16 side (whose previous club, Le Havre, have pledged to pursue a transfer ban as Lens have over Chelsea's purchase of Gaël Kakuta), the Glazers admit that there is a risk of a ban. Fifa has given a licence governing Pogba's transfer for now but "in the event of a decision against us, possible sanctions include a fine and a transfer ban," investors are warned.

The owners are legally bound to raise worst-case scenarios. The issue of Uefa banning clubs with high debt levels is, though also raised by the Glazers, not seen as an imminent threat.

But a more pressing one, also raised in the document, is that of a £5.3m hit from HM Revenue & Customs as a result of the current investigation into whether players should pay tax on the image rights they are paid. United's major players will be stung by such an outcome but so too the club, which will be liable for around £5.3m – the equivalent of their National Insurance contributions from 2000 to 2010.